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Tax Court Holds That Deficiency Petition 90-Day Time Limit Is Jurisdictional

Last summer, the Supreme Court of the United States held that the 30-day time limit to file a Collection Due Process (CDP) petition is a non-jurisdictional deadline subject to equitable tolling (Boechler, P.C. v. Commissioner). (Our prior discussion of Boechler can be found here.) The natural follow-up issue was whether this holding extended to the 90-day limit for deficiency petitions.

On November 29, 2022, in a unanimous 17-0 opinion in Hallmark Research Collective v. Commissioner, the US Tax Court held that the 90-day time limit is jurisdictional not subject to equitable tolling. The taxpayer in that case filed its deficiency petition one day late but argued that the 90-day limit is non-jurisdictional under Boechler and that it should be allowed to show cause for equitable tolling of the limitations period.

The Tax Court analyzed the relevant statute (Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 6213(a)) and found that the statutory text, context and relevant historical treatment all confirmed that the 90-day time limit clearly provided that the deadline was jurisdictional. Its analysis started with the US Constitution and tracked the deficiency procedures from the days of its predecessor (the Board of Tax Appeals) through various statutory changes and the overall framework of the procedures. Based on its analysis of almost 100 years of statutory and judicial precedent, the Tax Court concluded that it and the US Courts of Appeals have expressly and uniformly treated the 90-day time limit as jurisdictional, and the US Congress was presumptively aware of this treatment and had acquiesced in it.

The Tax Court rejected the taxpayer’s arguments to the contrary. It noted that the Supreme Court in Boechler rejected the analogy of the statutory 30-day limit for a CDP petition to the statutory 90-day limit for a deficiency petition. The Court also provided separate reasons why the statutory 30-day time limit was different, both in its text and in prior judicial constructions from the 90-day time limit.

Practice Point: The Tax Court’s opinion in Hallmark will not be the last word on the issue, and we expect further developments in this area. Additionally, there are other types of petitions that can be filed in the Tax Court (e.g., so-called “innocent spouse” petitions filed in non-deficiency cases) that contain language different from the statutes addressed in Boechler and Hallmark. We will continue to follow this area and provide relevant updates as they develop.




Supreme Court Denies Certiorari in Whirlpool

On November 21, 2022, the Supreme Court of the United States denied certiorari in Whirlpool Financial Corp., et al., Petitioners v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, No. 22-9. This means that the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit’s decision remains in effect and is binding on the taxpayers who reside in that circuit. However, for taxpayers in other circuits, the Sixth Circuit’s decision is only persuasive authority and not binding precedent. Thus, it remains to be seen whether taxpayers in other jurisdictions will challenge the result reached in Whirlpool, and if they do, how appellate courts outside the Sixth Circuit will rule.

Prior coverage of this case can be found below:




Whirlpool Update: New Filings and Distribution for Supreme Court Conference

On November 2, 2022, the Supreme Court of the United States announced that the case of Whirlpool Financial Corp., et al., Petitioners v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, No. 22-9, has been distributed for consideration at its upcoming conference on November 18, 2022. Meaning, we should have an answer in the next few weeks as to whether the Supreme Court will hear the case.

The Supreme Court’s distribution for the conference follows the government’s brief, submitted on October 19, 2022, in opposition to Whirlpool’s petition for a writ of certiorari.

In its brief, the government summarizes its position as follows:

Petitioners contend (Pet. 17) that 26 U.S.C. 954(d)(2) is “conditioned on the promulgation of regulations” by the Treasury Department and thus may not “be enforced without regard to such regulations.” But as the court of appeals correctly held, Section 954(d)(2)’s text itself establishes clear “conditions” and “consequences,” Pet. App. 12a, and when applied to this case, that text “mandate[s]” that the income at issue is FBCSI, id. at 18a. The phrase “‘under regulations prescribed by the Secretary’” delegates to the Treasury Department authority to “implement the statute’s commands,” but not to “vary from them,” ibid., so the court permissibly declined to articulate a separate rationale in this case based on the implementing regulations. Petitioners concede (Pet. 33) that the decision below does not conflict with that of any other court of appeals. Nor does it conflict with this Court’s precedent because petitioners’ cited cases involved meaningfully distinct statutory schemes. And resolving the question presented lacks practical importance because the Treasury Department’s former regulations would dictate the same result as the statutory text, and the revisions that were made to the regulations in 2008 removed any potential doubt about that result. This Court’s review is unwarranted.

The government’s position is an interesting one. It seems to accept that a court is free to ignore regulations relied on by the public if the court determines that the government’s position is supported by the statutory language and the statute is not entirely conditioned on the operation of a regulation. Additionally, the government believes here that US Congress did not entirely condition operation of Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 954(d)(2) on regulations.

Perhaps sensing the difficulty in prevailing on this argument, the government (similar to what it did in the rehearing proceedings in the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit) seeks to limit Whirlpool to the specific statute at issue. However, this ignores the fact that the same or substantially the same language is used in other Code provisions, making it difficult to limit the government’s argument to Code Section 954(d)(2).

In another attempt to discourage review, the government essentially argues that the substantive issue is an issue of first-and-last impression because the regulations at issue were amended for tax years subsequent to Whirlpool’s. Again, this ignores the fact that Whirlpool involves important administrative law issues that will remain regardless of the amendment.

Finally, [...]

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The IRS Can Share Your Tax Information with Foreign Governments

The recent Zhang v. United States case, Docket No. 21-17093 (9th Cir. Oct. 18, 2022), serves as a reminder that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) can force you to disclose and share your tax information with foreign governments. The taxpayers in Zhang appealed the decision from the US District Court for the Northern District of California denying their petition to quash an IRS summons for information. The summons was at the request of the Canadian tax authority pursuant to a bilateral tax treaty between the United States and Canada. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reaffirmed that the IRS can seek information for, and on behalf of, a foreign government as long as the request satisfies the accepted guidelines of requesting information in the United States—for example, the “good faith” requirement announced in United States v. Powell, 379 U.S. 48, 57-58 (1964).

So why do we highlight Zhang for you? In this ever-increasing world of tax information transparency, taxpayers need to be mindful of the ability of tax authorities to share information with each other and adjust their taxes accordingly. During a tax audit, it’s a strategic decision as to what tax information to share and what not to share with each tax authority. Telling different stories to different tax authorities could lead to more intrusive audits/scrutiny and higher overall tax bills and could even lead to criminal prosecution. Below are some basic principles to keep in mind:

  • There are three primary methods as to how countries share tax information with each other:
    • Automatic Exchanges
    • Spontaneous Exchanges
    • Targeted Requests
  • Automatic exchanges are becoming increasingly used by countries (g., BEPS Action 5 and the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act) because they are automatic and routine and usually associated with standardized financial/bank transactions.
  • A spontaneous exchange occurs when one country sees something of interest and alerts another country about a potential tax issue or as part of a joint audit by the countries.
    • These exchanges are usually facilitated by provisions in bilateral tax treaties.
    • The IRS’s Internal Revenue Manual (g., IRM 4.60.1.3) has detailed instructions for IRS employees on how to handle these treaty exchanges.
  • Targeted requests (like in Zhang) are typically initiated by one country that is a party to an information exchange treaty to seek information needed by that country in its tax investigation of its resident or citizen.
    • In such a case where a foreign government makes a request of the US government through a treaty, the IRS Office of the Competent Authority on the US side handles the request. (See, e.g., IRM 4.60.1.2.2.4.)
    • If the US taxpayer does not comply with the IRS request for information made by the foreign government (usually in the form of an “Information Document Request”), the IRS can use its administrative summons power to enforce the summons in court (which is what happened in Zhang).

Practice Point: It is crucial to be strategic [...]

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Tax Court to Host COVID-19 Webinar

On November 16, 2022, the US Tax Court will host an informative webinar panel discussion moderated by Chief Judge Kathleen Kerrigan from 12:00 – 1:00 pm (EST). The program will highlight changes to Tax Court practice that were made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and include lessons learned, best practices and practical implications for ongoing controversy matters and trial calendars. The webinar is free and open to everyone—register here.

Practice Point: The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the tax world significantly. For those with an active practice in the Tax Court, this webinar should be very informative and helpful. Additional COVID-19 resources for the Tax Court can be found here.

For some of our prior coverage on the impact of COVID-19 on the Tax Court’s operations, see here and here.




Courts Split on Supervisory Approval Requirement for Tax Penalties

Since Chai v. Commissioner, an opinion by the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit subsequently followed by the US Tax Court in several opinions, there has been a substantial number of cases litigating issues involving supervisory approval of federal civil tax penalties. Two recent additions to that list include decisions from the Ninth and Eleventh Circuits, where both Courts departed from the Tax Court’s analysis and ruling on the issue. The disagreement centers on when approval must occur. (Some of our prior discussions on this topic are linked below.)

LAIDLAW’S AND THE NINTH CIRCUIT

In Laidlaw’s Harley-Davidson Sales, Inc. v. Commissioner, the Ninth Circuit, reversing the Tax Court’s ruling, applied a textualist approach and held that approval is required only before the assessment of a tax penalty and not before the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) communicates a proposed penalty to the taxpayer. The Court reasoned that the “language of [Internal Revenue Code (Code) section 6571(b)] provides no reason to conclude that an ‘initial determination’ is transformed into ‘something more like a final determination’ simply because the revenue agent who made the initial determination subsequently mailed a letter to the taxpayer describing it.” While the Court was “troubled” by the manner in which the IRS communicated the potential imposition of the penalty, it explained that a court’s role is to “apply the law as it is written, not to devise alternative language.” In reaching its decision, the Ninth Circuit disagreed with the position developed by the Tax Court in recent years.

KRONER AND THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT

In Kroner v. Commissioner, the Eleventh Circuit followed Laidlaw’s Harley Davidson Sales and similarly concluded that the IRS satisfies Code Section 6751(b) so long as a supervisor approves the penalty before it is assessed. The Court explained that this was the best reading of the statute because (1) it is more consistent with the meaning of the phrase “initial determination of such assessment,” (2) it reflects the absence of any express timing requirement in the statute, and (3) it is a workable reading in the light of the statute’s purpose. The Court suggested that the IRS may be wise “to have a supervisor approve proposed tax penalties at an early juncture…but the text of the statute does not impose an earlier deadline.”

The Eleventh Circuit was explicit in its departure from Chai and Tax Court precedent, stating that “the Chai court missed an important aspect of the statute’s purpose: it is not just about bargaining, it is also a check on the imposition of erroneous penalties.” The Court also explained that “appropriate penalties should be assessed and collected. Chai’s analysis of these competing interests leaned heavily on the former to the detriment of the latter when justifying its departure from the statutory text.”

Practice Point: It remains to be seen whether this issue will make its way to the Supreme Court of the United States given the apparent circuit split on the issue as [...]

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IRS Appeals Will Not Consider Regulatory Invalidity and Subregulatory Procedural Invalidity Challenges

In Mayo Found. for Med. Educ. & Rsch. v. United States, 131 S.Ct. 704 (2011), the Supreme Court of the United States made clear that administrative law rules apply to tax guidance like they do to other federal agency guidance. Since Mayo, the Supreme Court and other courts have provided further guidance—both in the tax and non-tax contexts—regarding the proper analysis in determining the validity of, and deference to, regulatory guidance.

Over the past decade, the number of taxpayer challenges to guidance issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), whether in the form of regulations or subregulatory guidance (i.e., revenue rulings, revenue procedures, notices and announcements), has increased significantly. These challenges have taken a variety of forms, such as regulatory invalidity under Chevron USA, Inc. v. NRDC, 467 U.S. 837 (1984) and procedural invalidity under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). Some successful challenges to the validity of IRS guidance and the ability to challenge such guidance in a pre-enforcement context include CIC Servs., LLC v. IRS, 141 S.Ct. 1582 (2021); United States v. Home Concrete & Supply, LLC, 132 S.Ct. 1836 (2012); Mann Construction, Inc. v. Commissioner, 27 F. 4th 1138 (6th Cir. 2022); Good Fortune Shipping SA v. Commissioner, 897 F.3d 256 (2018) and Liberty Global, Inc. v. United States, No. 1:20-cv-03501-RBJ (D. Colo. 2022). Many other challenges are pending both at the administrative level and in court.

The IRS and the US Department of the Treasury (Treasury) have noticed the increase in challenges to its published guidance. One important change is the more detailed discussions in preambles to final regulations regarding comments received and how the IRS views and incorporates said comments. This is a welcome development, although sometimes a tortuous one for taxpayers who must wade through hundreds of pages of preambles in some regulation packages. Another change, and the subject of this post, is the IRS’s views on how to deal with such challenges during the administrative process.

A federal tax controversy can involve three levels of review: Examination, Appeals and litigation. At the Examination stage, revenue agents and other IRS personnel develop the facts and determine whether an adjustment is warranted. Importantly, “hazards of litigation” are not considered at the Examination level, meaning, issues are viewed as binary—in favor of the IRS or the taxpayer—and not negotiated as a percentage of the item. However, at the Appeals level, the Appeals team weighs “hazards of litigation” to determine whether a case can be settled by the parties. Hazards of litigation are also considered at the litigation level.

Validly promulgated tax regulations are approved at the highest levels of the IRS, Treasury generally carry the force and effect of law and are binding on taxpayers and the IRS. Subregulatory guidance is also approved at senior levels of the IRS and the Treasury. At the Examination level, the IRS will not entertain challenges to the validity of [...]

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Tax Court Relaxes COVID-19 Protocols

Courts have been relaxing their COVID-19 protocols over the past several months, and on August 23, 2022, the US Tax Court announced its latest position. In Administrative Order No. 2022-01, the Tax Court detailed new protocols for entry into the Washington, DC, courthouse, as well as in-person proceedings at all the locations in which it holds court.

As of August 29, 2022, court personnel and contractors will no longer be required to show a COVID-19 attestation form, a vaccination card or a negative COVID-19 test to enter the Washington, DC, courthouse. Instead, anyone entering will be required to self-certify whether they have or have been exposed to COVID-19. Additionally, individuals who test positive for COVID-19 within five days of entering the Washington, DC, courthouse are requested to notify the Tax Court.

Trial participants, witnesses and members of the public attending in-person proceedings must complete the COVID-19 self-certification requirement via QR code for entry into a Tax Court proceeding at any location. Additionally, entrants to both the Washington, DC, courthouse and Tax Court in-person proceedings at any location are requested to follow the current guidelines provided in the Court Standards and Protocols to Protect Public Health.

Practice Point: COVID-19’s effects on the administration of Tax Court proceedings lingers on more than two years after the outbreak. If you plan to attend a court proceeding in person, we suggest checking the Tax Court’s website in advance to ensure that you are in compliance with its procedures before showing up.




Courts Outline Boundaries of the Anti-Injunction Act Post-CIC Services

Since the Supreme Court of the United States’ decision in CIC Servs., LLC v. IRS was issued in May 2021, courts have grappled with how to apply the Anti-Injunction Act (AIA) in other contexts. The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit recently affirmed the dismissal of a lawsuit under the AIA in Hancock County Land Acquisitions, LLC v. United States, while the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit recently held that the AIA does not prevent a challenge to the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) use of John Doe summons in Harper v. Rettig.

In July, we posted about a circuit split between the Sixth and Eleventh Circuits over claimed Administrative Procedure Act (APA) violations. As discussed below, these post-CIC Services decisions are shaping the boundaries of challenges based upon the APA and the AIA.

THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT

The taxpayer in this case reported a $180 million deduction for a conservation easement on land it owned in Mississippi. The IRS audited the taxpayer and requested an extension of the statute of limitations on assessment in Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 6501. The taxpayer initially declined, but 11 months after the request it agreed to extend the limitations period. At that point, the IRS had almost finished with its examination, and the parties never executed the extension. The IRS issued a Notice of Final Partnership Administrative Adjustment (FPAA), and the taxpayer was unable to pursue an administrative resolution with the IRS Office of Independent Appeals (IRS Appeals). The taxpayer filed suit in US federal district court, arguing, among other things, that the IRS violated the APA when it did not send the case to IRS Appeals, resulting in the taxpayer being deprived of pre-litigation administrative resolution of its tax dispute. The IRS moved to dismiss the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, which the district court granted.

On appeal, the taxpayer argued that the suit was not barred by the AIA, citing CIC Services. The Eleventh Circuit, however, explained that the three considerations that led to that conclusion in CIC Services were the “same three considerations [that] lead to the opposite conclusion here.” The Court found that the taxpayer: (1) would not be subject to any costs separate and apart from the tax penalty from the FPAA; (2) was on the cusp of liability when it filed its suit and (3) would not suffer any criminal punishment by following the AIA’s “familiar pay-now-sue-later procedure.” The Court stated, “at its heart, this suit is a ‘dispute over taxes,’” and it was far from clear that under no circumstances could the IRS prevail on the merits of the taxpayer’s claim.

THE FIRST CIRCUIT

In 2013, the taxpayer in this case opened an account with a digital currency exchange. He deposited bitcoin into his account in 2013 and 2014. In 2015, he started to liquidate his Bitcoin holdings, which lasted until 2016 when his holdings were depleted. At that [...]

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Supreme Court Requests Government Response to Whirlpool’s Petition

We previously discussed the petition for writ of certiorari that was filed in the Supreme Court of the United States by Whirlpool Financial Corporation & Consolidated Subsidiaries and Whirlpool International Holdings S.a.r.l. & Consolidated Subsidiaries (collectively, Whirlpool); the amici briefs filed by The National Association of Manufacturers, the Silicon Valley Tax Directors Group, and three of the “Big 4” accounting firms in support of Whirlpool’s petition; and how the case is now up for consideration at the Supreme Court’s upcoming conference on September 28, 2022. We also noted how the US government waived its right to file a response to Whirlpool’s petition.

In the latest update regarding Whirlpool’s petition, in a minute entry on the docket sheet, the Supreme Court has requested that the government provide a response by September 19, 2022. That response will then be considered by the Supreme Court at its September 28 conference, absent a relisting of the matter for a later conference. We will continue to monitor further developments in Whirlpool’s case and provide any further updates as they are made available.




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